What happened when CTG met … Martyn Waites aka Tania Carver

waites-website

I met Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) at the Princess Louise pub in London. It’s an old Victorian place with wood panelled booths and a traditional bar. Over beer and pork scratchings, we chatted about crime fiction, country music, and what it’s like writing under multiple names …

Your latest novel – HEARTBREAKER – is the 7th Tania Carver novel featuring DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the series, and I found the killer in this book especially chilling. What was it that led you to create that particular character?

I never set out to create a villain. The character might have done horrible things, but everyone is the hero of their own story, so I come at it from that angle. It’s about making monsters more human. I think you have to look at characters that way or you don’t get the depth of psychological involvement needed for the story.

Their side of the story was quite interesting to plot. At first I wanted to let the reader know the killer’s identity halfway through the book and have them see the character manipulating and manoeuvring the chess pieces during the second half. But in the end I went back and changed it, so that the story kept the reader guessing till close to the end.

The question in my mind was what would attract someone who’s a natural predator to do [what they do in the book]? I like the juxtaposition between their job and what they do privately, and at the same time I wanted to make them good at their job. I wanted to create someone who had a life – I like giving good characteristics and traits to bad characters. I hate looking at things as black and white – grey is so much more interesting.

During the course of the series, and especially in HEARTBREAKER, you’ve put Phil and Marina through a lot both professionally and as a couple. Was their relationship something you’d planned out from the start of the series or has it grown organically book by book?

I make it up as I go along! I know when I start a book they have to be in a different place emotionally at the end, and that the story has to have moved them on as characters – without that, everything stays on the surface. In a series it’s difficult to do, but worth doing. Every novel needs to be a good jumping on point for new readers, but also give readers of the series something more. I like surprising the reader!

You’ve written books under your own name – the Joe Donovan series, the Stephen Larkin series, the Woman in Black: Angel of Death, Great Lost Albums – as well as the Tania Carver novels. What is it that attracts you to a story idea, and how do you decide which of your names it’s right for?

I’m not sure! I had actually started working on a Tania book, but about fifty pages in I realised it was a Martyn Waites novel so I stopped. I’ve got another idea for a standalone, and an idea for a comic series which I’m putting together. I’ve got an idea for a supernatural horror crime novel too where the premise came to me fully formed – I was on the tube at the time and had to get off so I could write it down. With writing, I think it’s about opening up yourself to different ideas, and then finding someone to pay you for writing them!

When I write I don’t have a specific reader in mind, but I do want to give the reader a good experience. It comes from when I was acting. I was on tour in a Catherine Cookson play (as the villain) and my mother and her friends had all saved up so they could buy good tickets to come and watch it. That really reminded me that the audience have paid money to see a play and deserve to enjoy it. It’s the same with readers – I don’t write for a specific person but I want the reader to have the best experience they can. It means you can never feel complacent and do something half-arsed. It makes me my own worst critic – I always think I can do better.

What’s your writing process – do you plot everything out in advance or dive right in and see what happens?

Bit of both really. I start with a premise, maybe a couple of images, and some questions – what’s happened? Why did it happen? From there I’ll write a bit and see what happens and where it gets to. In the new one I’m writing [the 8th Tania Carver novel] a couple of new characters have popped up and I just love putting them in scenes – that’s the exciting bit. I tend to use the first part of the book as an audition for the characters, then do a bit of structuring and plan a list of things that will happen.

With this book I’ve changed to writing at night. I start work at 8pm and write through to midnight, or if it’s going well until 2am. I like working at night. It’s like you’re alone with your thoughts and the house is silent. It’s comforting. It makes it feel like a good time to write.

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Like me, you have a love of country music. What are you listening to at the moment? And do you listen to music as you’re writing?

I need silence when I’m writing. I’ve tried writing in coffee shops, but I can’t do proper work away from my desk or dining room table (which I sit at for a change of scenery). So I can’t listen to music as I write, although I wish that I could.

I do listen to music to get me into the right mood to write, and this is different depending on the book. For one book I would listen to Night Owl by Gerry Rafferty, and for another it was Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs. I’m currently listening to Everything’s Fine by The Willard Grant Conspiracy (really miserable) and Mark Lanegan (kind of less miserable) – both put me in the right mood for writing. If I want something more upbeat, then I listen to some sixties southern soul like James Carr.

What was it that drew you into writing crime fiction and how did you get started?

I was a fan of crime fiction. I read a lot of the stuff, and am a huge comics fan, but couldn’t read sci-fi. I read a lot of pulp fiction and when I picked up a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely I knew I’d found my thing. I read everything by Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and Dashiell Hammett. Then discovered James Ellroy and James Lee Burke. I didn’t really like the UK stuff like Agatha Christie, but I loved the contemporary American stuff and the way it was reporting on a society I recognised. I wondered why no one was doing that it in the UK – so I decided to write a novel. At the same time others had the same thought and were taking the idea in their own direction – people like Ian Rankin. Crime fiction was the only type of books that really connected with me, I was left cold by UK literary fiction – it all seemed to be about the beauty of a sentence and showing off. I hated it. Whereas Ellroy and Lee Burke demonstrated that literary crime could be accessible and contemporary.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication?

Someone once said that the main difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that a professional writer doesn’t take no for an answer! It took me five years to be published and during that time I was turned down by everyone!

Keep writing. Keep getting better. Don’t take no for an answer.

I still turn up to crime fiction events feeling like I’m going to be told my time’s up. You just need to keep on writing, and re-writing and re-writing. And if you get knocked back ask why – you’re never going to get better unless you know why you’re getting rejected, so ask.

And finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

Finishing the next Tania Carver novel, which will hopefully be finished sooner rather than later – it’ll be out in summer 2016 as an eBook, and autumn 2016 in paperback. Then my back catalogue is being published in France and I’ll be going there to attend some festivals.

And with that our drinks were finished, the pork scratchings eaten, and the interview over.

A huge thank you to Martyn Waites (aka Tania Carver) for letting me ply him with beer and interrogate him about his books and writing.

Be sure to check out HEARTBREAKER – the fabulously gritty, super-chilling latest book in the DI Phil Brennan and Psychologist Marina Esposito series by Tania Carver.

Here’s the blurb: “After years of abuse, Gemma Adderley has finally found the courage to leave her violent husband. She has taken one debilitating beating too many, endured one esteem-destroying insult too much. Taking her seven-year-old daughter Carly, she leaves the house, determined to salvage what she can of her life. She phones Safe Harbour, a women’s refuge, and they tell her which street corner to wait on and what the car that will pick her up will look like. They tell her the word the driver will use so she know it’s safe to get in.

And that’s the last they hear from her.

Gemma Adderley’s daughter Carly is found wandering the city streets on her own the next day. Her mother’s mutilated corpse turns up by the canal several weeks later. Her heart has been removed. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan takes on the case, and his wife, psychologist Marina Esposito, is brought in to try and help unlock Carly’s memories of what happened that day. The race is on to solve the case before the Heartbreaker strikes again …”

You can find out more about Martyn Waites (and Tania Carver) over on www.martynwaites.com and follow Martyn on Twitter @MartynWaites

And click on the book cover below to buy HEARTBREAKER from Amazon:

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The INTO THE FIRE blog tour: CTG interviews Manda Scott – plus a fab #IntoTheFireComp

INTO THE FIRE cover image

INTO THE FIRE cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Manda Scott to the CTG blog as part of the INTO THE FIRE blog tour. Manda is the author of four critically acclaimed novels about Boudica and, writing as MC Scott, four novels set in Ancient Rome featuring assassin and spy Sebastos Pantera. She is founder and Chair of the Historical Writer’s Association, the Historical Publishers’ Group, Chair of the HWA Debut Crown and of the programming panel for the Harrogate History Festival.

So, to the interview …

Your latest book INTO THE FIRE is out in hardback this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a dual time line thriller – the contemporary thread is set in 2014 and there’s a historical thread in 1429, when a young girl, who claimed to be a peasant, turned up at Chinon and told the king she had been sent to free France from English rule (I paraphrase, but that was the gist).

In 2014, Inès Picaut is a police chief in Orléans, called to the site of a fire at a hotel, that is clearly arson. It’s the third such fire in as many weeks, but the first in which there is a body – and so she is now leading a murder hunt. The dead man in this case has been burned beyond recognition, but for the fact that he swallowed a USB drive before he died, and it contains three enciphered files which may help Picaut and her team to identify him – a task which becomes ever more pressing as further fires erupt, and more people die.  

In 1429, Tod Rustbeard, a man of French and English nationality, fights on the English side as the self-styled Maid of Orléans breaks the siege of Orléans. As the English defences crumble, he is sent behind enemy lines with an explicit task: to find the truth behind this girl who cannot be what she says she is – and then to use that truth to destroy her.  As he grows ever closer to his quarry, he has to question not only her identity, but his own. 

The two timelines weave together, each informing the other, so that the central question WHO WAS SHE? drives both forward.  I am absolutely convinced that she wasn’t an illiterate peasant girl, but we can talk about that more in the next question.   Beyond that, any good thriller is driven by a mix of anticipation and uncertainty, and each thread has to have its own threats, rhythms, internal questions that make the two together greater than the sum of their parts.

What was it that sparked your idea for writing INTO THE FIRE?

I’d always had an interest in Joan of Arc’s reputation as a woman warrior – having written about Boudica, it at least made sense to take a look at  the next most famous woman warrior – but I always got stuck on the notion that she was a peasant girl who turned up out of nowhere, got on a warhorse and led the troops into battle. Either she was a cipher, a flag-carrier and nothing more… or she had to be trained. If she was the former, I wasn’t interested. If she was the latter, I couldn’t see how it was possible.  Then I read an article that pointed me in the direction of who she could have been and the more I read about it, the more sense it made – until in the end, it seemed to me she couldn’t have been anyone else.  The question of why she had to spin her own lies in the beginning also makes so much more sense once everything falls into place.

Then I learned that the man who proposed this theory first was thrown out of France and even now, is immensely bitter about it – and it seemed to me that this, the current way of looking at her, was the most important.  She has been mis-represented for 600 years, and even now, she’s being held up as an icon of ‘perfect womanhood’ (virginal, godly, republican) by the far right in France.  So iI really wanted to explore how the political movements of the twenty first century hijack the myths of the past – and how they’ll kill to keep that myth intact. I believe absolutely in the maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing, so that meant that if I wanted to do what I thought was possible, it had to be through the vehicle of a dual time line narrative – that I had to *show* who she was in the past, in order for us to understand more deeply the projections and patho-mythologies of the present..  It’s a lot harder to write, but if the author gets it right, it’s immensely satisfying to read.

How would you describe your writing process – do you plot the story out in advance or jump right in and see where it takes you?

I never plot in advance, although if there is a historical thread to the book, then I need to make sure I know the history of who was where, doing what and when – and that I have all the ancillary data correct: the things that bring history alive. But for me to write a book, it needs to live inside me, which means the characters have to have their own freedom and they have to have the power to surprise me. I’d grow bored otherwise, and if I’m bored, then the reader is going to be bored too…

INTO THE FIRE features both an investigation taking place in present day Orleans and a historical timeline featuring Joan of Arc in 1429 – how did you go about researching them?

First, I got on the EuroStar and went to Orléans – that was really key to understanding the dynamics of both past and present.  In anything I write, the characters matter most, their identities and inner integrities and the charisma of the situation, but always, the place shapes its people and Orléans was key to both threads.  Having been there, I spent a very large amount of time reading everything I could about Joan of Arc (and there’s a lot), particularly the transcripts of the two trials – her trial by the English and the ‘rehabilitation trial’ by the French 30 years later that endeavoured to prove she wasn’t really a heretic after all – eye witness statements at the latter were crucial to understanding what actually happened, although of course we have to remember that human memory is flawed and undoubtedly coloured by time.  But still, having got my head around her, the modern day narrative of Picaut and Patrice, her computeroid cyber-brain assistant was fast and furious and most of it just rolled out almost unaided. I’m very wary of people who say that books write themselves, because they never do, but some are less effort than others and this bit flowed particularly sweetly – I revelled in the cyber-crime aspects, and the breaking of ciphers.  I’d written a series of spy thrillers just before and the cadences of that were still working their way through.

What was it that first attracted you to writing crime fiction?

I read Val McDermid’s Lyndsey Gordon series back in the 90s and fell in love with the genre. I wrote HEN’S TEETH in the late 90s because I thought I needed the exigencies of plot to help me complete a novel and then I joined the CWA and learned the actual rules of crime writing, as opposed to the ones I had invented for myself, and found that it was a fascinating structure within which to explore the things that matter most to people – I hate the kinds of novels that look at our masks. I am most interested in what happens when we drop those masks and we do so in the presence of death and danger – so crime writing, and thriller writing in particular – is the obvious medium. I consider my historical novels to be thrillers too, they’re just written in a different milieu.

For those writers aspiring to publication, what advice would you give?

I’d say what Fay Weldon said to me on my first writing course, which was ‘Find your own voice’, and then what Terry Pratchett (one of the greats, so sadly missed) said on the second writing course which was, ‘just keep writing.’  And then last, from me: Read.  Read everything.  Read books you love and books you loathe and books you don’t really care about – and work out what you love and why you love it and how it was done, and what the good bits are and what works and what doesn’t.  Reading is the apprenticeship for writing so read and read and read.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

I’m 3/4 of the way through a sort-of sequel to INTO THE FIRE called ACCIDENTAL GODS so I have to finish that, and then we seem to be about to sell the TV rights to Into the Fire and the company wants me to write the screenplay which is both an enormous honour and an enormous privilege, so I’ll crack on with that.   I’ll be at Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July in Harrogate and then back up again for the History Festival in October. I’m Chair of that for the third and final time this year and so it’ll be all-out to make it the best yet.  I’m handing over Chair of the Historical Writers’ Association to the brilliant historical crime writer Imogen Robertson also in October and Andrew Taylor, multiple winner of the Historical Dagger will take over Chair of the HWA Debut Crown, so between now and October, I’ll be flat out, but I’ll have a rest in November. Perhaps.  I suspect something else will have come up by then.

A massive thank you to Manda Scott for talking to us today on the CTG blog.

To find out more about Manda and her books hop on over to her website at www.mandascott.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @hare_wood

 

*** COMPETITION ALERT ***

 I’m thrilled that those lovely folks at Bantam Press have given me a copy of INTO THE FIRE to giveaway to one lucky winner! To be in with a chance to win all you need to do is tweet the link to this post (using the Twitter button below) OR retweet one of the CTG tweets about the giveaway – making sure to include the hashtag #IntoTheFireComp. You’ll also need to follow us on Twitter so we can send you a direct message should you win.

Rules: (1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winner at random (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 9pm GMT on Monday 29th June 2015 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

 

Also, make sure you check out all the other fabulous stops along the INTO THE FIRE blog tour …

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CTG Interviews: best-selling thriller writer Simon Kernick

The Final Minute cover image

Today I’m delighted to be joined on the CTG blog by thriller writer Simon Kernick. Known for his fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, Simon spills a few of his writing secrets as he tells us how he goes about creating his best-selling books …

Your latest novel THE FINAL MINUTE is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

The Final Minute, centres round Matt Barron, a man with severe amnesia who keeps have a recurring, and very vivid, dream in which he is in a house looking down at two dead women. This leads him to think that he may have killed them. As the book starts, he’s living with his sister in Wales but when a pair of menacing strangers turn up out of the blue with questions for Matt, he realizes that somewhere in his unconscious he possesses a piece of information that is extremely valuable for some very dangerous people. He’s soon on the run, being chased by people at every turn, including the police, and enlists the help of a hardnosed private detective Tina Boyd, to help him find out his true identity and what the information he possesses is before he’s either caught or killed.

You’re well known for writing super pacey thrillers like THE FINAL MINUTE. What’s your writing process – do you plan the stories first, or do you jump right in?

I’m very much a planner. I get my idea, then produce a chapter by chapter synopsis, and only when I’m absolutely sure I know where the book is going and how it’s going to end, do I finally start the writing process.

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You’ve also recently published a three-part novella ONE BY ONE about a group of school-friends coming together on a remote island twenty-one years after one of their friends was found dead. What attracted you about releasing a story in episodes and did the different format change your writing process?

I had a story idea two years ago that I really liked but wasn’t big enough to fit it in a book and so I used it as a novella. Since I’ve been a fan of serials since childhood I thought it would be an interesting idea to make the novella 3 parts, with parts 1 and 2 ending on real cliffhangers.

What was it that drew you to writing thrillers?

I’ve written stories of one sort or another right back from the age of 5, and I’ve always been a fan of reading thrillers so it seemed like a natural progression to try my hand at writing one.

For those aspiring to write a thriller, what’s your top tip for writing a great story?

Keep the story moving. Always. Let no word be wasted. People aren’t interested in padding when they’re reading a thriller.

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And finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

I’m writing a new thriller which needs to be finished by the end of September, then I’m going to have a nice holiday. Then it’ll be onto planning the next one. There’s no rest for the wicked.

A massive thank you to best-selling thriller writer Simon Kernick for dropping by the CTG blog today.

To find out more about Simon and his books you can hop on over to his website at www.simonkernick.com/books/

His latest book is THE FINAL MINUTE – here’s the blurb: “It’s night and I’m in a strange house. The lights are on, and I’m standing outside a half-open door. Feeling a terrible sense of foreboding, I walk slowly inside. And then I see her. A woman lying sprawled across a huge double bed. She’s dead. There’s blood everywhere. And the most terrifying thing is that I think her killer might be me …

After a traumatic car accident wipes out his memory, Matt Barron retreats to his sister’s house in Wales to begin his slow recovery. But something’s wrong. He keeps having a recurring dream of being in a house with a group of dead bodies and a bloody knife in his hand, and he’s beginning to have real doubts that he is who his sister says he is. Then one night, the past comes calling in the most terrifying way imaginable and Matt is forced to flee for his life. He needs to find out who he is, whatever the cost, and there’s only one person who can help: ex Met cop, turn private detective, Tina Boyd. But Matt’s a hunted man and, as Tina digs into his background, she suddenly finds herself in the firing line. She needs to find out the truth. And fast.”

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Also, be sure to check out his three-part novella ONE BY ONE – here’s the blurb: “Seven ex-school friends have been brought together on a remote island. They haven’t all been in contact since a fateful night twenty-one years ago, when their friend Rachel Skinner was found dead. The man arrested for her murder has now been acquitted, and the seven friends fear for their lives. But are they hiding from the right person? Or have they fallen into a deadly trap?”

CTG Interviews: AK Benedict, author of The Beauty of Murder

AK Benedict

AK Benedict

Today I’m delighted to welcome the fabulous AK Benedict to the CTG blog. Her spellbinding debut, The Beauty of Murder, was one of my favorite books of 2013, and was shortlisted for this years’ eDunnit Award.

So, to the questions ...

Your fabulous debut novel, THE BEAUTY OF MURDER, comes out in paperback this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The Beauty of Murder is a crime thriller with a fantastical twist set in Cambridge in both the 21st and 17th centuries. My main character, Stephen Killigan, is a philosophy lecturer at Sepulchre College and stumbles upon the body of a missing beauty queen and a mystery that changes the way he views the world. The novel includes many of the things that fascinate me: philosophy, music, tattoos, time travel and cake.

In your novel the setting, Cambridge, plays a big part. What was it about that particular city that inspired to you to write about it?

I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and spent a lot of time wandering its streets. I love the austere beauty of its ancient buildings and how some streets make me wonder which century I am in. It is a city of elemental extremes: in summer the old stone shines, trees are big with blossom and people sunbathe by the river but in winter it is cold and forbidding. It feels to me like a place of magic and possibility, the ideal starting point for a mystery. I first thought of a time travelling serial killer while I was at Cambridge and both Jackamore Grass and the city have haunted me since.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

It varies: sometimes the words fly right out, other times I sit with stories for a long time, letting ideas and characters wander about before settling down and talking to me. I like to know the beginning, middle and end before I start writing, leaving lots of room to be surprised by what develops. If I know exactly what happens and who has committed all of the crimes, then I feel no need to write! I write by hand and transfer it onto my computer to start with then work straight onto the keyboard when the story gathers momentum. Towards the end of the first draft, I don’t eat, sleep or get out of my onesie. I’m a real catch.

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

THE BEAUTY OF MURDER is your debut novel. What was your route to publication?

I have longed to be a professional writer since I was three so it has been a route taking thirty odd years! I wrote several partial novels, a full one, stories and poems before The Beauty of Murder was published in 2013. Rejection letters sighed through the letterbox with the occasional encouraging remark, small publication or competition win along the way. I enrolled on a creative writing course at the University of Sussex and toned up my dialogue, plotting and pacing while learning how to receive and make use of criticism. I started writing The Beauty of Murder during my second term and worked on it for the next couple of years while working as a musician and composer. I met my agent, Rupert Heath, at a Meet the Agents Day organised by New Writing South and he saw the novel’s potential and encouraged me every step along the way. When it was ready, he sent it out to editors and I was amazed when it went to auction. It was a very surreal time. The three year old me who wanted ‘to be a writer and have lots of pens’ was very happy; thirty-three year old me ran across a hilltop in Hastings with champagne and a grin.

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

Write hard, write soft, write about what makes you smile, write about what you want to know and what lies beneath the stones but, most of all, write. When you have a slew of stories, scripts or poems, throw them out into the world and see which ones find land. The pile of rejection letters is something to stand on while you reach for your goal.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I am in the middle of editing my second novel, due out in November, while starting the sequel to The Beauty Of Murder and researching other ideas. There are also some exciting TV opportunities and visits to crime and fantasy festivals and conventions.

Sounds like 2014 is going to be a busy one!

A huge thank you to AK Benedict for popping by the CTG blog for a chat.

To find out more about AK Benedict hop on over to http://akbenedict.com/

The Beauty of Murder is published by Orion and out in paperback now. You can find it in all good bookstores, and online at http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Beauty-Murder-A-Benedict/dp/1409144518

And, read our review of The Beauty of Murder here 

CTG Interviews: Edward Wilson about his new book The Whitehall Mandarin

The Whitehall Mandarin cover image

The Whitehall Mandarin cover image

Today I’m pleased to welcome Edward Wilson to the CTG Blog to tell us about his new book – The Whitehall Mandarin – and about his writing process.

So, let’s dive into the interview …

 Firstly, your new book, The Whitehall Mandarin, is coming out in June. Can you tell us a bit about it?

All of my books are literary novels disguised as spy fiction. I try to explore the questions of identity, perception and truth. Can we really know who anyone really is? How can we find truth when it is papered over with lies? My starting point is the party slogan from Orwell’s 1984: ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’ The Whitehall Mandarin is an ‘insider novel’ that unpeels layers of deception to reveal the most closely guarded state secret of modern times: the China enigma. What is the secret behind China’s rapid rise to become a nuclear armed superpower? And when we think we have found that secret, there is yet another twist.

Lady Penelope Somers, the first woman to head up the Ministry of Defence, seems to have it all: power, beauty and wealth. The superglue that binds together the ruling class is secrecy – but Lady Somers has a dark secret that is unknown to even the inner circle of the Whitehall elite. Catesby’s job is to find that secret and bury it forever.

All of the book’s characters are complex and conflicted. Catesby, an MI6 officer who ironically bears the name of the leader of the Gunpowder Plot, never resolves his working class origins with his OBE and his status as a senior intelligence officer. Cauldwell, a wealthy American reeking of refinement and‘old money’, repudiates his background to become a Communist spy. Henry Bone, Catesby’s boss and mentor, has a closet full of skeletons including a past relationship with Sir Anthony Blunt.

Before writing the Catesby spy series you served as a Special Forces Officer in the US Army, how easy do you find using your real-world experience to inform your fiction?

War is not a good thing for writers or anyone else. I despise writers who become macho war bores and celebrate ‘the cult of the warrior’. Being a Special Forces officer in Vietnam was a lot more than ‘combat’. It was about going native, running intelligence networks and dealing with double agents – experiences which are invaluable for a writer of spy fiction. I was an SF advisor to the CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group), a border screening force that patrolled from remote camps the length of South Vietnam. The CIDG soldiers were mostly Vietnamese or Montagnards, although there were also Khmers and Chinese Nungs. My own CIDG were all Vietnamese; brave fighters certainly, but also heavily infiltrated with sleeper agents. It was estimated that at least 10% of our CIDG were undercover Viet Cong. None of our operational plans were ever secure, none!

One way of dealing with this lack of security was to change plans at the last minute. I tried this on an ambush patrol with a small team of CIDG . We crept into a village after dark and began, covertly, to ask for information about the Viet Cong. An old man took me aside and led me away from the others. He asked to see my map so he could show me where to find the enemy. I refused because there was classified information grease-pencilled all over it, but I finally let him see a little corner and he pointed to a trail where we should set our ambush. It seemed a much better site than the one we had already chosen. I then rejoined the others and put the plan to the Vietnamese in charge of the CIDG, who responded with a resounding ‘khong’ – which is non, no, nein and nyet rolled into one. I couldn’t order him to move his men; I was only an ‘advisor’. So we set our ambush on the site previously chosen.

Later that night all hell broke loose, but nowhere near us – or the trail the old man had suggested. We later discovered that a Regional Forces (RF) outpost, less than a kilometre from our ambush position, had been overrun and sixteen of its defenders killed.

I’ll never know what really happened. Had the Viet Cong who attacked the outpost passed along the trail the old man had pointed out? Could we have saved those sixteen RF if we had redeployed and ambushed the attacking force enroute? Or was the old man a Viet Cong agent who had tried to lure us to a place where we would have been killed? Or was our CIDG leader an undercover VC who refused to budge because he wanted to protect his comrades? But I did learn the intelligence officer’s dilemma: you can never be completely certain who anyone is. Every human being is a mystery. I hope I bring this into my novels.

Author Edward Wilson

Author Edward Wilson

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

I begin by doing a lot of historical research to try to uncover something that no one has used before. The great thing about writing spy fiction rather than spy non-fiction is that most relevant documents have been destroyed, suppressed or never existed. When the historical trail of dots finally disappears, I keep going with a fictional version of what happened.

When I’ve got a plot outline, I go for characters. Characters, and not plot, are what make a novel take off. The same characters appear, disappear and reappear in my novels – and each time they reappear I reveal something new about them. I research actual historical characters by background reading, but I also use Youtube clips of them to try to discover their inner essence and quirks – Che Guevara’s shy boyishness; Kim Philby’s arrogance (just after he denied being ‘the Third Man’, he sticks his tongue in his cheek).

When I’m in full flow I try to write a minimum of 1,500 words a day. I know that things are going well when the characters take over and tell me what to write. They become real people – and don’t always tell me all their secrets. I just have to wait until they are ready. I don’t own them; they own me.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?

Character, character, character. We don’t remember Raymond Chandler’s plots; we remember his characters. I once had the privilege of sitting next to a crime writer named Phyllis at the Hatchards Authors of the Year party. The first thing that Phyllis (aka PD James) said to me was: ‘What is more important: character or plot?’ Phew, I gave the right answer. In fact, characters must shape the plot – otherwise, the plot will appear artificial and unbelievable.

Tension is more important than suspense. Everyone knows that Romeo and Juliet are not going to live happily ever after, but we still go to see the play. Sometimes revealing what happens in the first line of a chapter is more effective than springing it later. Begin a story: ‘She had never stabbed a man before.’ – and the reader is going to be on tenterhooks waiting to find out what actually happened.

Your main character must have a foil. Every Holmes needs a Watson. Revealing plot and narrative movement is a lot easier when two characters are talking about it – and tension between the two is also good for suspense and character development.

Find out what everyone else is doing – and then write something completely different. Make it new. Agents and publishers aren’t looking for copycats, they’re looking for originality.

Learn to pitch your story in fifty words or less.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

The next few weeks are devoted to travelling and promoting The Whitehall Mandarin – including the Penzance LitFest on 18 and 19 July. Half the job of a professional writer is marketing her or his books and meeting people. We owe it to our readers and our publishers.

The other half of a writer’s life is actually writing. My next book is provisionally titled A Very British Ending – and I hope to have finished a first draft by December. Once again, it is an ‘insider novel’ with Catesby and Bone struggling against internal and external enemies. The action takes place between 1947 and 1976. I don’t write to understand myself, but I do write to understand the country that has adopted me and naturalised me – a country that I love. I hope that my next book will reveal some of the hidden and secret forces that have made Britain what it is today.

Thank you so much to Edward Wilson for joining us today and telling us about The Whitehall Mandarin.

The Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson is published by Arcadia, and is out now in hardback. To find out more pop over to http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Whitehall-Mandarin-Edward-Wilson/dp/1909807532

CTG Interviews: Paul Gadsby about his new book Chasing the Game

Chasing the Game cover image

Chasing the Game cover image

 

Today I’m delighted to welcome Paul Gadsby to the CTG blog to talk about his new book – Chasing the Game.

So, let’s get to it …

Chasing the Game is out now, and gathering rave reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a crime thriller depicting one of the most fascinating real-life crimes in British history – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966. Three months before the football World Cup tournament was due to begin, the trophy, on display in Westminster Central Hall, was stolen in an audacious daylight raid with the back doors of the building forced open. No one actually saw the trophy being taken but a ransom demand was made a few days later to the Football Association (FA), who were desperate to save face and reclaim the trophy, and a rendezvous organised where the trophy would be exchanged for cash. But the exchange never happened, one man was arrested for demanding the ransom but was never connected to the actual theft, so the identity of the thieves remains a mystery. Bizarrely, the trophy was discovered under a bush in a suburban street in Norwood a week after the theft by a dog named Pickles, who subsequently became a national hero.

I wanted Chasing the Game to be very much a fictional novel before anything else (not a documentary-style review of the crime etc), so the make-up of the gang of thieves and their particular characters and motivations were all driven by my imagination and I had a blank canvas to work on there. I used elements of the real-life tale (the ransom demand, the exchange set-up) and created extra conflict by having my FA chairman as a steely character who is determined to recover from the global humiliation the theft caused him and his organisation, and hell-bent on making the criminals pay. I had a theory early on about how I believed the trophy ended up under that bush, and basically worked back from there to create a gripping story.

In Chasing the Game, a real-life event – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy (the football World Cup) in London in March 1966 – is integral to the story. What was it about this event that sparked your idea for the novel?

I was drawn in by the fact that the crime has so many unanswered questions to it. The actual theft appears to have been carried out with a fair degree of good planning and professional expertise, so it seems a group of people did it rather than someone alone snatching an opportunity. But then the trophy – their only asset in getting something out of their efforts – ends up under a hedge a week later. Something must have gone dramatically wrong between that group of people during those seven days, as the pressure mounted with the case attracting international publicity.

I’ve always been fascinated by the internal structure of organised criminal set-ups and the personality clashes that rise to the surface. I’d been toying with a theme for a crime novel about leadership – about how some people have the natural skillset to be an effective operations man in a number two role but not necessarily the abilities to handle the wider scale responsibilities that come with being number one – and thought it would be good fun to drop this theme into the midst of a dramatic story such as the 1966 theft.

How did you go about researching the time period and the real life events?

I’ve always been into 1960s-set gangster stuff such as the Krays and the Great Train Robbery, so I read a lot of books surrounding those characters and looked into the pressures they faced in their lives at that time; what kind of lifestyles they were living and what they were aspiring to. I also watched a number of television documentaries about everyday life in Britain in the 1960s (thank you BBC4 et al) because I was determined to make that period a character of its own in the book. I love the music of that era but have always felt the way the 1960s is often portrayed to people like me who were born after then (Swinging Sixties, everyone flocking to a vibrant Carnaby Street to spend a fortune on the latest fashions etc) is a little skewed from reality. I wanted people consumed with the grind of their jobs, their money problems, their marital problems, their parenting problems and so on – characters burdened by the harsh challenges that life always throws into people’s laps.

That’s where the ransom demand in Chasing the Game proved really handy as a motivation driver within the narrative. I deliberately placed my ‘firm’ of criminals in west London, a few miles away from the central Soho scene they ultimately want to get to and grab a stake in – and the ransom cash is their leg-up to this world, their ticket to a brighter future. The trophy theft is also a chance for my ageing, old-school FA chairman to hit back against the thieves he sees as a stark representation of an increasingly insurgent society, and leaves him questioning his place in the world.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

Chasing the Game is my first novel to be published but I’d written a few before that and with each one the process was slightly different. With this one I had the end of the story in place first, and worked back from there, carefully mapping out the characters and the various conflicts they would face, then drawing up a detailed chapter breakdown before getting into the actual writing. With other books I delved into the writing a lot quicker – happy with the overall concept and where things would finish, I went for it, adopting the ‘car headlights in the dark’ approach (writing away knowing what is immediately in front of you as well as the end destination, but never seeing what is a little further down the road). This approach allows the detail of each chapter to develop more organically and is an enjoyable way to write, but is probably more suited to character-driven work rather than plot-driven material. Either method (and many more besides) is fine and can be successful as far as I’m concerned, as long as the writer has a burning passion to explore the themes they want to unravel, and has created mesmerising characters who have plenty at stake within a tension-riddled story.

Author Paul Gadsby

Author Paul Gadsby

Who are your favourite crime writers – which books and authors have inspired you?

I have tended to prefer standalone books rather than mass-volume serials; I love it where the writer has the freedom to take his main character down any dark alley and the reader really doesn’t know how bad things will get. With the serials, we always know the main character is going to be fine and any injuries sustained will not be too serious because they’ll be back in another adventure next summer. That said, although I’m no great fan of those formats, there have been some tremendous writers who have gone down that path and deserve every credit – Ian Fleming for one, while Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham are delightful writers and I’ve enjoyed many of their books. Ray Banks’ mini-series following PI Cal Innes was fantastic and wrapped up with great humility, while David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet inspired me to explore mixing fact with fiction.

I love noir classics as well as slick contemporary thrillers. Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialogue is, in my opinion, unmatched. James Crumley is a big hero of mine as are the likes of Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Patricia Highsmith, Jake Arnott, Graham Greene, Jim Thompson, Adrian McKinty and James Ellroy. Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce is a glorious standalone book and one of my all-time favourites, as is The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I have written the first draft of another novel, a tale about a recently-retired boxer who is forced into a life of crime by his former manager, and look forward to editing and polishing that soon. But in the meantime I’m enjoying promoting Chasing the Game – reviews from crime fiction sites have been fantastic so far, while I’ve been asked to speak about the book at this summer’s Festival of Football Ideas in Bristol, a literary-music-art-themed event, which I’m really looking forward to.

A huge thank you to Paul for allowing us to grill him! 

If you’d like to find out more about Paul Gadsby and Chasing the Game pop on over to his website at http://www.paulgadsbyauthor.co.uk/